Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

How LeBron’s Return to Cleveland Affects the Golden State Warriors

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Just in case you haven’t heard the latest NBA news, allow me to get you up to date. LeBron James is returning to Cleveland. It is undoubtedly a huge shift of the league landscape, and the ripple affect is sure to be felt league wide. Although James is staying in the Eastern Conference, his signing still will affect the Golden State Warriors.

The Kevin Love trade rumors have dominated the Warriors offseason thus far, and that’s exactly where James’ return to Cleveland affects Dub Nation.

Love has made it clear that he wants to play for a contender and up until the James signing, Golden State was leading the Love chase, with only a few other teams trailing. Now, there may be a new frontrunner. James makes the Cleveland Cavaliers an instant title contender and one of the Vegas favorites, and Love is reportedly “intrigued” by the idea of playing in Cleveland. Obviously.

It didn’t take long for the Cavs and Wolves to start trade talks, and it didn’t take much longer than that for the first obstacle to surface.

From Minnesota’s standpoint, the inclusion of Andrew Wiggins will most certainly be required for any deal to take place, just as is their insistence of Klay Thompson having to be included in any trade with Golden State. Things can change quickly and at any time, but the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t seem to be in any hurry to get a deal done.

For now, Cleveland is willing to part ways with any combination of Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and draft picks. The Warriors (for now) are willing to trade Harrison Barnes, David Lee and maybe a draft pick or another small piece.

Word is that Flip Saunders is more interested in acquiring players who can compete right away rather than younger, less proven talent and draft picks to build on. This is surely because he named himself head coach, and he wants to coach a good team who can push for a playoff spot rather than a younger, less developed team that’ll take another year or two to be fairly competitive. If that’s the case, then Golden State is the more appealing team to trade with.

That’s the problem with one individual serving as both the GM and the Head Coach; the big picture is much more narrow. The Timberwolves weren’t that competitive even with Love on the team, so it’s unlikely that they would be competitive right away if they traded with the Warriors. They’d still need plenty of work.

If the Timberwolves are looking to hit the reset button and begin to rebuild than Cleveland is the more attractive trade partner. Wiggins is a no brainer as a young asset but even if he is not in the trade, the Cavs have more future assets to work with. Bennett had a rough season, but he’s still just 21 years young and can’t be written off after just one year. Waiters can light it up at times and has plenty of potential, and Thompson is a quality forward who can contribute solid minutes. A handful of draft picks can be included as well, and Minnesota wouldn’t be financially strapped by any big contracts. For a rebuild, this is probably the best offer the Timberwolves would receive from any team in the Love sweepstakes.

An interesting takeaway from James’ letter, which announced his return to Cleveland, is that he mentioned Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao by name, but he failed to mention Bennett and most notably Wiggins, among others. It could be nothing more than pure speculation and definite over-analyzing, but it seems reasonable that James would mention that he is excited to join forces with the number one pick in the draft. Is it possible Dan Gilbert wanted him to leave those names out, in case they ended up in a deal for Love?

Again, Minnesota doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get a deal done and at this point, neither Golden State nor Cleveland seems willing to part ways with Thompson or Wiggins, respectively. It’s very possible that if trade talks start to get serious with either team, that the other might jump in to up the offer. If James gives the green light on including Wiggins than Dan Gilbert would be making that call before James even finished his sentence. Then maybe, Golden State would be willing to add in Thompson, and Minnesota would have a decision to make.

Of course, it really may not be Minnesota’s decision anyway. Love could put an end to all speculation rather quickly and easily, by making it clear that he will only sign long-term with one team. With two solid options on the table however, it’s unlikely he would do that. On Cleveland’s side, James will be signing a one-year deal with a player option for the second year, so without a long-term commitment from James, Love wouldn’t provide one to Cleveland.

Because of that, Golden State remains very much in play. Prior to James returning to Cleveland, it was a possibility that the Warriors could stand firm on not including Thompson and make Minnesota agree to those terms or pass the deadline and get nothing when Love walks.

With Cleveland in the mix, that possibility is all but gone. Expect this one turn into a staring contest without anyone blinking until the trade deadline. Wiggins will be on a team-friendly deal for several years before heading into restricted free agency, so the Cavs can keep him for eight years if they wanted to. Thompson has a max contract offer around the corner and Lee is expendable, considering who would be received in return. For those reasons, Golden State would be more willing to part ways with Thompson than the Cavs would be with Wiggins. But as evidence by the James signing, things can change at any minute.

We’ll see who blinks first.

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Tags: Golden State Warriors Kevin Love Klay Thompson Lebron James